Thursday, October 30, 2014

Breaking Down

Much of this year has been focused on training for my half marathon and mission trip to Guatemala. I cannot do many things well at one time so I tend to pile all of my efforts into just a few. It became a lot harder for me to save images on my computer, and my husband inadvertently switched my blogging password. All of a sudden it just became a real hassle to even think about getting a blog post together. I tried a few times, but could not give it the time and energy that it requires. It took me the better part of a week to get the password reset and this picture placed at the top of the page, but I'm finally good to go. Lord willing, hopefully it'll be easier for the next post.

We are two-thirds of the way into the Fall Hiking Spree. The air is turning crisp and leaves are changing, falling, and crunching underfoot. The trails invite me to rediscover them in their more simplistic, stripped down form. The leaf canopies have been replaced by bare limbs and unobstructed views of the sky. There are no splashes of color from wildflowers to grab my attention, which affords me the opportunity to enjoy that which is sometimes overlooked. Things like moss, dirt, bark, rocks, and mushrooms.

Mushrooms. I came upon these toward the end of our hike and knew they were a blog post in the making. I stopped, absorbing the thoughts that began flying at me. I walked over to them, bending low for a closer look. My fingers stretched out to feel their smooth, springy flesh. My family moved on without me, but I continued my examination, piecing together all that I was hearing from my Father. Finally, I snapped a few pictures and walked away... unburdened.

I had been wrestling with some things all week about the Guatemala mission trip. Mainly, I was beating myself up because I had experienced what had felt like a relapse while there. I had gone into the trip feeling strong. I had labored an entire year to rid myself of emotionally destructive tendencies. I had felt confident and sure as I boarded my plane. Unbeknownst to me, I had more ground to cover.

I've recently shared about that first little incident that the enemy had a field day with, but I will recount the story here for those who may not be familiar with it. I had been working the "Bucket Brigade" as our team helped build the villagers a church. I had worked so hard passing those unbelievably heavy buckets of dirt. I had joyed in the physicality of our task since I was in the best shape of my life. I had completed my first half marathon two weeks prior and had risen early that very morning to run up and down a mountain in heat and humidity that I was unaccustomed to. I was feeling pretty good about myself.

Then I overheard a team member worriedly speaking to our pastor about the likelihood of our work continuing at the same level the next day. We had a huge task ahead of us and he just could not see it happening with the bodies we had to accomplish it. He had specifically mentioned my name with a few others, proclaiming, "There's no way they are going to be able to keep doing this stuff." To say that I wilted is an understatement! I let him know that I was fine and would do the work, but that turned out to be untrue. I wasn't fine. Just that one little sentence had caused me to believe so much less in my ability to contribute anything of worth. It was not the same from that point on. When I passed buckets I imagined that the guys were expecting me to be weak. If it was a particularly hefty bucket I felt pressure to not let on how heavy it felt to me. If I lost my footing in the loose soil I imagined that they were thinking I couldn't handle the work. It seemed like the guys were holding on to the buckets just a little longer than necessary when they passed them to me to make sure I could handle it and wasn't going to drop it. If, in fact, that was the case it seems like a kind thing to me now - but then it made me feel like a loser.

But even this experience was not the end of me. I fought against the lies that the enemy was throwing at me. I continued to work hard, squashing down the negative self talk. Making the best of it, I publicly made light of it and joked about our team member thinking I was such a wimp. It helped. I was overcoming. And then I got sick.

And then I got sick. Just writing it in italics cannot convey everything that that one little sentence means. I worked all of my third day ill. They needed some of us to come to the school to paint and I jumped at the chance for some easy work. Our team mate had viewed me as weak and now I truly was weak. The enemy pounced on his opportunity to drive that point home to me. I was weak. I was. And that physical weakness wore away at me until I began experiencing emotional weakness. Upon arriving at the school, we were surprised to see a huge pile of dirt in the middle of the surface that we were supposed to paint. Construction was in progress and there was no way for us to paint that day. The respite that I thought would soon be mine was not to be - so back to the Bucket Brigade I went. I did not want to do it, didn't think I could with how I was feeling, but there were too many empty spots. I was needed.

We use clocks and minutes to measure our time, but that all stopped for me as I took my place in line. I could think of nothing else but the next bucketful. I passed bucket after bucket and it became the way I calculated time. No longer was it 10:00 or 12:00. Now it was "one bucket closer to being done". I prayed. Oh, did I pray! I reminded myself over and over that God was my strength. And I did the work. Even in such a weakened state I had seen the day's task through to completion. I fell into my seat in the van and promptly burst into thankful tears. I had never in my life so truly experienced God being my strength. We read that in the Word and believe it to be true, but going through something like that makes it so real.

It was a victory for me, and I was overcoming. But the enemy wasn't gonna give up that easy. My sickness continued to progress to the point where I knew I needed nothing but water and sleep. Retiring to bed at 5:15, I skipped dinner and devotions that night. Fever had set in and I could not get warm. I took the hottest shower I could stand and put warm clothes on. I pulled my jacket's hood over my head, put socks on my hands and a thick folded up towel over my head, and settled in to sleep with three blankets. I felt defeated. I had successfully fought against the urge to withdraw when I felt hurt two days earlier, but now I had no choice but to physically separate myself. I did not want to be alone. I desperately wanted to be with the others - to be one of them even though I always feel so different. Instead I lay in my bed isolated from them and feeling every bit as tainted as the enemy wanted me to feel. I was sad. I missed my family.

Thankfully I awoke in the night in a pool of sweat. Praise God, my fever had broken. I got up and showered again to rid myself of the evidence of my weakness. I was back in business! Or at least I thought I was. Just because I felt so much better did not mean that the others would understand that. A few team members were very sensitive about germs and made it very plain to me. Here I thought that my time of being alone would be over. I can't explain the depth of my disappointment when I realized that I would still have to keep my distance in order to make others feel more at ease. It seemed like a cruel joke to finally be able to join them only to continue being alone. Loneliness is a very powerful emotion and it really broke me down. Lacking the community I craved effectively shut me down. I was away from everything normal in my life and that which would have afforded comfort was just beyond the reach of my fingertips. I felt like I had lost in so many ways.

Having said all of that, I don't want to make the mistake of throwing the baby out with the bath water. I have no doubt that I was supposed to go to Guatemala and that the Lord accomplished things through me being there. We helped those people. God enlarged our hearts toward one another and toward our Guatemalan friends. He marched us right up to the edge of a cliff and asked us to fling ourselves into His arms, surrendering all control to Him. We did that and He showed us over and over again that it wasn't about us. That it was about Him in every way.

When I came upon these mushrooms during our hike, I could distinctly sense that He was telling me something. I began searching my mind for all of the fungi facts that I had filed away over the years. I recalled that they often attach themselves to things that are dying. They feed on their hosts and break them down. My trip to Guatemala popped into my head. What of it, Lord? Hmmm... I had been surprised that I wasn't as strong as I had believed I was. I realized that I still had plenty of work to do. I had become down on myself and impatient with my journey. Why couldn't I just shake this stuff off and move on? I desire to be whole, and had actively worked towards it, so why was the enemy able to shake me as he had on the trip?

The Lord spoke to me about those unwanted things that had attached themselves to me while there. I thought of those mushrooms sucking the life force out of the tree stump they were affixed to. I could relate. I remembered how I had experienced that same draining of things that brought life to me. I had once again come face to face with my fears and had come out feeling like they had been the winners. But the Lord persisted. Don't you realize that I knew you would get sick? Don't you believe that it was part of My plan for you? Can you see no way that I can use that experience for good? Did you really think that it was all about you and what you wanted? What of what I want? Oh, my. Well, of course it could be used! I had sort of lost sight of that. I had lost focus. It wasn't about me and everything that is wrong with me. It was about Him and what He wanted to do in me and through me. And, obviously, that included me being sick and feeling alone. It had shown me that I was still susceptible to believing the worst about myself. It had shown me that I need to keep filling my head with His Truth and not give an inch to the enemy's lies.

I was fixated on the fact that the fears about my worth still had some power over me. Why couldn't I just win the victory already? But God, in His goodness, encouraged me. Those mushrooms have attached themselves to something that is dying. Yes, you had things fastened to you on your trip. You may not have wanted them to be there, but you were a perfect host because so many things are dying in you. WHAT?!!! You are making progress. Don't you forget what role those mushrooms play. Yes, they are often parasitic in nature. You know what that feels like. But don't forget that they are decomposers, breaking down the wood of that stump. The wood will not be the same in the end. Instead, it will have transformed into rich, life-giving soil. Tamra, you are being broken down in the same way. You will be changed! No, you are not there yet. That's okay. You will get there. I am making you into something that I can use to nourish and promote life in others. You keep telling others about what I am doing in you. You will get there. Just make sure you're honest about the journey. 

And so I try to do that. I think of the friend with sensory issues who was grossed out by the bumpy texture in this picture. She said that she would have wanted to scrape them all off to make it smooth. Don't we often do the same thing in life? Don't we instinctively try to avoid those things that make us uncomfortable? Speaking for myself, I can say that I have been tempted to long for less bumps along the way. But if I truly believe that He is in control I can rejoice even in those parts that are not as I would have preferred. He is going somewhere with every bit of it. I am so grateful for that.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Thing of Beauty

What comes to mind when you think of a spring wildflower? Perhaps something pastel in color and delicately shaped? When I look at the Skunk Cabbage pictured above, a different sort of description comes to mind. I think of words like hardy, stout, unconventional, or prickly. Believe it or not, sitting here looking at this picture reminds me of a worker I encountered at Walmart recently.

I came upon her as I made my way to the housewares aisle. She was hoisting an over-sized box up near her head like it was nothing. I took a few seconds to notice a few things about her. She had a harshness about her. She was burly. Not very feminine in appearance. She seemed preoccupied by more than her work. Underlying her gruff exterior I sensed a certain vulnerability. My heart went out to her.

I was in a hurry, but I paused for just a second before her and said, "Watch it, now! You be careful lifting stuff up like that." The hardness crumbled just a bit and I smiled at her. It wasn't much, but a change came over her. Was it because someone cared about her? She visibly softened, returned my smile, and offered a thank you. And that was that.

I continued to think about her on the drive home. Not being much of a beauty myself in a worldly way, I wondered what she might believe about herself. Did she buy into the whole erroneous idea of what it means to be beautiful in our society? Did she realize her value? That she was lovingly made with a purpose?

As I've aged, my concept of beauty has broadened. It's been my experience that it is a rare occasion when youth has eyes to see beauty in all of its different forms. The flower at the top of this page is beautiful in its own way. Certainly not dainty, I'd describe it more along the lines of "earthy". Among the first flowers to burst forth in the spring, to me, it is always a glorious sight for sore eyes. The confining days of winter are drawing to an end and I know that the dying season is over - at least for a time. I appreciate the skunk cabbage's bold splashes of color. And that spiky ball at its center reminds me that some people guard their hearts with prickly exteriors in an effort to keep others at arm's length where they can't hurt them as easily.

Father, I lift up this beautiful young woman to You. I don't know much about her, not even her name, but You do. I wonder if she knows You? If not, would You please draw her lovingly to Yourself by Your Spirit? If she does know You, I pray that You would draw her even nearer to Your heart. Chase away any darkness in her - anything and everything that is not of You. Lord, would You help her to realize Your love for her? Cause that knowledge to permeate her thought processes and take root deep down in her heart, transforming her. Let Your unshakable love overcome her to Your glory. In the beautiful name of Jesus I pray, Amen. 

Bind Us Together

Aren't our bodies remarkable things? I look at this picture and marvel at how they have been created to heal themselves. Taken three months ago, the break that begins at the third screw and extends down through the fourth screw is no longer visible. It has totally regrown. I read once that bone, once it's healed, is actually stronger than it was to begin with. That's what I'm counting on in more ways than one. You see, I look at this image and it really isn't my husband's ankle post surgery. It's my marriage.

Today is our 22nd wedding anniversary. Beyond that, we began dating on this day the year before. Twenty-three years. Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into! He had baggage, I had baggage. I think I remember Beth Moore saying, "Baggage attracts baggage." Well, I guess so. Really, we were such broken individuals. And God, in His wisdom, thought it'd be a good idea for us to be together. I smile as I write that, but it has been so very hard.

With brokenness comes a lot of unhealthy behaviors. It hasn't been pretty, but God Himself has fought for us over the years. And here we are. Soon after my husband's accident, it became apparent to me that the Lord was doing something in us. It seemed that He was not content to have us continue on with a survival mindset. Our thoughts are not like His thoughts, but I really do think that He wanted to move us beyond that to a place of thriving. In order to do that, though, He needed to perform surgery on us.

Sure, we had made attempts over the years to heal. Despite our best efforts, the progress was minimal at best. Something a bit more drastic must be done. And so our Physician orchestrated events in such a way that we would undergo the knife. With scalpel in hand, He got to work. It was His good pleasure to open us up... go in and clean out the junk and debris... skillfully join the separated parts back together... add reinforcement... and stitch us together. Sounds wonderful, but in reality the healing process hurts. That kind of pain can make you desperate... and He does some of His best work with us when we are in that sort of place.

I look at this picture and notice that ten screws were used to fasten the plate in place. I've been pondering those ten screws the last month or so. What things has God been using to bind us securely together during this time of healing? Hmmm...

1. Prayer. So many prayers. We prayed alone, together, with others. Once, during an excruciating bout with withdrawal, John asked me to e-mail a prayer plea to some friends NOW. He needed back up for what he was going through. We got uncomfortably honest with a handful of people about how hard it was. What we were really going through. Believe me when I say that it got very bad.

2. Time. There are usually not too many quick fixes. We had to give it time despite our many frustrations and wishes that we could just be healed already. Just like bone takes time to regrow after a break, so does marital healing.

3. Courage. Wow, did I have to be courageous. If we had any hope of ever getting better, some things needed to be said and done. I came to learn that our codependency was off the charts. How had I never known what codependency was up to that point? I needed to learn to love in healthy ways. It was a whole new world for us. Definitely not a walk in the park, it was enough to make me want to give up several times. But love, real love, does what is best for the other. Not what is most convenient and not what will stir up the waters the least.

4. Forgive. I don't think this needs much explanation. Forgiveness is that thing that we all know we need to do, but do we really do it? I had to examine my heart and remember that forgiveness is a choice.

5. Draw close in physical intimacy rather than push one another away. Yes, I said it.

6. Follow doctor's orders. My stubborn husband was not icing his ankle like he was supposed to and it was not helping. In the same way, God gives us instructions in His Word that will promote healing... if we'd just listen.

7. Thankfulness. One of the first things I did after the accident was begin a list of things that I was thankful for. It helped to keep me positive and was my way of living out Philippians 4:8 - "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things."

8. Affirmations. The ground seemed so uneven beneath our weary feet in the early phases. I noticed that it seemed that we didn't much believe one another when we said, "I love you." We needed to affirm our level of love and commitment to one another. One small thing we began implementing to combat this tendency was to answer one another's "I love you's" with, "Yes, you do." It might seem silly, but we needed all the help we could get. And I do think that it helped.

9. Persevere in communicating. I never thought that communication was our strong suit, but it became painfully obvious to me that it was even worse than I had imagined. We couldn't get it right even when we made very concentrated efforts. Oh, was it discouraging! We began reading The Love Dare together, which helped to break things down into very detailed and manageable pieces. It was a great opportunity for us to educate ourselves in what the other might be thinking, fearing, or needing. And it urged us to act on it in meaningful ways.

10. Trust the heart of God. In the darkest times when things seemed most futile, I needed to remind myself that He was doing something. It wasn't for nothing! He had a plan. He would redeem and restore. Most importantly, He would be glorified.

Father, on this 22nd wedding anniversary, I just want to give You praise. You are the God of the universe, full of power and might, and You still care enough to perform surgery on us. You are so wise and know the perfect timing for everything. You knew just when we would be most vulnerable and when You'd be able to work most effectively. You are our Great Physician, God. You have made us fearfully and wonderfully - You know us! Having made us, You also know what we need. More than anything, we need You. Cause us to love You above all other things. Draw us close to Yourself in a greater intimacy than we've ever known. And, please, continue Your healing work in our lives that You would receive much glory. In the strong name of Jesus I pray, Amen.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Where are you Looking? Part 2

I have been procrastinating long enough about writing this post! It had seemed like such a great idea at the time, but I now find myself dragging my feet for one reason or another. Had I not announced in the last one that I would be writing a part two, I am pretty sure that this post wouldn't have come about. At least not this soon. Since I like to do what I say I'm gonna do in a timely manner, it looks like I'd better find some words in a hurry. 

Lord, help me to express those things that will bless someone who reads this. You know what needs to be said... and how... and for whom. You also know how terrifying it is to share on this kind of level. Do Your thing! In the name of Jesus I pray, amen.

When I left off I had just recounted how the Lord had spoken to me during the process of looking back over my life. Because He doesn't do anything halfway, He had much more to speak to me about where I was looking. Specifically about what I was and was not looking for in my relationships. It started with me finding myself in a place where I had absolutely no recollection of something my husband had said during a conversation we had with a friend. I have a pretty great memory (a blessing and a curse), and I was surprised by this lapse in my cognitive abilities. I had been right there and hadn't the slightest remembrance of that entire part of the conversation? What in the world? I am thankful that the friend had enough guts to call me on it and offer some words of wisdom. He shared how a friend had told him that "we will find in others what we are looking for." In my case, I hadn't heard something that I wasn't listening for. You see, it was beginning to dawn on me that I had an agenda.

I know that I am not without sin and that my heart can deceive me. Still, I've got to be honest that I was disturbed by this. I highly value honesty and all of a sudden I was faced with the knowledge that I was deceiving myself. Ugh! I purposed to tackle it head on and see what the Lord might show me. From that point on I became keenly aware of what was happening/being said around me and how I was filtering each thing. Sure enough, I caught myself several times seeing things in a skewed way. Not surprisingly, I found myself doing this a lot with my husband. It may sound silly, but on any given day I have myself convinced that he totally despises me. I began to suspect that this probably wasn't the case, and that I should consciously look for evidence to the contrary. 

Two examples immediately spring to the forefront of my mind, the first being John's practice of backing in the car in for me. Knowing that I am a nervous driver and even passenger, he thoughtfully goes out of his way to do certain things to ensure that any trips I have to make will go smoothly. Besides backing in the car, he often programs the address into the GPS and mounts it, warms up the car, cleans the windows, makes sure I have gas, etc. All of this sounds great, right? How do I see it? Well, I get in the car (that I can now pull straight out of the driveway in!) and am overtaken by negative thoughts. Surely he must think that I possess inadequate driving skills and am incapable of driving well! His attempt to love me is totally blocked by my uncanny ability to flip it around into something that it isn't. Can't have anyone loving me, now can I?

Similarly, I caught myself misreading an exchange we had about skydiving. I had shared a desire to do so and had been met by his outright refusal. He pointed out that it seemed safe because more and more people were doing it, but that people were bound to start having fatal accidents. He had then said, "And you are way too valuable to our family." Seems pretty straightforward, doesn't it? That's not at all what I heard. I heard, "You are never allowed to have any fun. I will control what you can and cannot do, however, I can do whatever I please." Unbelievable! It took me about a day to catch what I was doing, which was deflecting any possibility of him caring. To me, there was no way that it could have anything to do with him loving me, so I needed to turn it into him desiring to control me. Sigh! Why do I do this?!!!

I began realizing that I have a tendency to hyper focus on things that will "prove" that I am not loved. Personal failures on the part of anyone I come into contact with can somehow become evidence that I do not deserve love. I have became a pro at seeing what I want to see. Bit by bit I have stocked my own little arsenal of weapons. If someone gets too close, I need only pull one out to create a little space. I do this with my husband, family, friends, just about anyone. As much as I welcome intimacy, I have really begun to see how I project things upon people in accordance with the way I am sure they must feel about me. It all boils down to me, once again, not believing what my Father says about me.

It is almost like scales have been falling from my eyes. When I really began looking for ways that John and others were loving me I was overwhelmed. I was seeing love everywhere and it had always been there! Subconsciously, I have always believed that I am not worthy of love. I have carefully built my case to support it and have deliberately used weapons to protect that belief. And now I have to ask myself what am I so afraid of? 

The pictures I am using for this post are of the spring wildflower Star-of-Bethlehem. Wishing to find it, I was surprised when I discovered it in our backyard. Really hoping it was the real thing, I had run in the house and retrieved my field guide. Everything seemed to line up just so, but I was still looking for that one thing that might cement my ID. I read on and discovered that there is a green stripe going down the center of the underside of the petal. How exciting! I couldn't wait to flip over a petal to see if the stripe was there. If you look back at the top picture you will notice that the stripe is not visible. It would take some looking to see it. And so I am discovering that if I want to be everything that God is calling me to be, I will have to start consciously looking for love from those He places my life.

I love You, Father. You love me... and, wonder of wonders, other people love me. I am sitting here allowing those truths to sink in. You have painstakingly dealt with me in this area for what seems like forever, Lord! You are so very patient with me. Though I find myself slipping into my old ways of thinking from time to time, I really have felt that I have made vast improvements as far as believing Your love for me. That was a start, but it seems that You desired to carry that over into my other relationships. Did You think it was time to shake things up because I was finally feeling more secure in Your love? Whatever the case, I am so grateful that You are always building me. Thank You for this reminder to look for the love that I so often refuse to see. I confess that I have blinded myself from seeing healthy expressions of love from those You've placed in my life. Forgive me, please. Since You are the Great Physician, I pray that You will align my vision. As I seek to obey You in this, would You please help it to come more naturally for me? I want to live in a way that pleases You. In the name of Jesus I pray, amen. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Where Are You Looking? Part 1

As we prepare to close out 2013 it seems that the Lord has been revisiting a theme that He introduced to me this spring. This photo was taken on the last day of April and I had this to say about it on Facebook: 

"I have Dara-Grace to thank for this beautiful picture. We got our school work out of the way early today and went for a hike. Because it's getting pretty warm out there, she paused to sit and rest on some steps about midway up. As I approached her, I noticed her sitting there with a very pensive face. Just as I reached her she said, "You know, Mom, it's very pretty right here." I took a second to turn and take in the view that had captivated her. Yep, she was right - I found it quite pretty as well. I'm not in the habit of looking at the view behind me as I struggle up stairs. I guess I've been missing out."

I had been struck at the time by the thought that perhaps looking at the things behind me might be beneficial. I've discovered that I am a very goal-oriented and determined person. If I am in the midst of a struggle I tend to surge forward toward whatever end I have in sight for myself. I would have missed this beautiful sight had I not paused to take the time to experience it. Hmmm... What might I be missing on a spiritual level by not taking some time to look back over the "trail" I've covered thus far in my life? 

My friends know that I have no problem whatsoever tapping into or sharing my feelings. However, the particulars of what the Lord began speaking to me last spring proved to be elusive. It is only after many months that I feel remotely capable of putting any of it into words. As I thought about what I would say, I began to see that I would need to do something I've never done on my blog: break a post into two parts. Too many details would need to be left out in the interest of keeping it at a manageable reading size. My detail-loving self could not let that happen! Having said that, I'll continue with the story.

After the aforementioned hiking incident I walked along with the Lord for weeks allowing myself to really take a look back. One of the first things He brought to my attention was the way I have been negatively shaped by my father's leaving. It all started innocently enough with a song on the car radio while picking up my son from work. The opening lines of New Man by All Things New caught my attention in a way that startled me:

I can remember when he left
It's still pounding in my chest
The pain I felt when he said goodbye

As soon as I heard it, I was transported thirty-five years back in time. I remembered my mom urging me to go tell my dad goodbye and "make sure you tell him you love him." This was nothing new to me. He had always been in and out of our home and I was used to goodbyes. This was different, though. Mom went on to explain that, this time, Dad was leaving and not coming back. 

My mind drifted to that day. I was five, maybe six, years old. I remember the scene as if it happened yesterday. Walking into the bedroom, I came upon my father standing before an opened suitcase that rested on the end of the bed. Hair dryer in hand, he wound the cord around it in a very precise way. Looking back, I wonder if it was easier for him to concentrate on that act of wrapping the cord than face the daughter he was leaving behind. Did he feel sorry in that moment? I dutifully gave him an awkward hug and told him I loved him. He placed his hairdryer in the suitcase and that was that. For whatever reason, this particular memory has always stuck with me.

I don't remember how soon the revelation came after initially sensing the Lord speaking to me about looking back, but a thought occurred to me soon thereafter that blew me out of the water. You see, I realized that all of these years later I do not own a hair dryer. I haven't had one in my home for over twenty years. More than two decades of brushing out my long hair and going places with it wet. I knew that on a subconscious level I was probably protecting myself from the pain of that devastating memory. It made perfect sense and I couldn't believe that I had never made the connection. 

Fast forward several months and our area was experiencing a cold spell. I got up and showered before going to volunteer for the Metro Parks. I would be sitting outside for two and a half hours signing Fall Hiking Spree forms... in the cold... with wet hair. I was gonna freeze and I wasn't relishing the thought of it. For the first time I really began to feel grumbly about the whole thing. I realized that I had been going out in the cold with my wet hair for all of my adult life... and that I wasn't content to do that anymore. I had this to say to a friend: 

"I decided that I think it stinks that that incident should still be affecting me at age 41. The too tight skin split and I stepped out more fully formed and free from something that bound me."

I resolved right then and there that it was going to stop. I would buy a hair dryer and finally face what I had been avoiding for way too long. At the time of this writing, the hair dryer has been purchased just in time for some wintry weather that arrived today. I am grateful that there will be no more feeling like my head is stuck frozen in a block of ice when I leave the house! 

Father. I bow before You pausing to let that word sink in... Father. I am Your daughter and I am humbled to be called Yours. Thank You for always wanting the very best for me and for the way that You redeem. You are good! You've fearfully and wonderfully made me, Lord. Who but You can know how this mind of mine works? It amazes me that there is so much in there that I am not even aware of - stuff that I carry with me each day and that has a bearing on how I do life. Protect me, Lord, against the evil that the enemy would seek to level against me. Cause long-standing strongholds to crumble and fall. Give me wisdom to walk with You in freedom. Help me to see what things I must next tackle head on in my way to being who You made me to be. Grant me eyes to see and ears to hear that I may bring much glory to You. In the strong and beautiful name of Jesus I pray, Amen. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Return to Me

My daughter snapped this picture for me on the drive home from a special overnight trip that we Harrison ladies enjoyed last year. We had gone to an inn that we adore and had invited a good number of people to join us. We were overjoyed when a few actually decided to take us up on our offer. In the end, though, all had to cancel for one reason or another. Bummer! To make matters worse, we were greeted with very wintery weather for the drive down and our pre-paid Visa card would not work once we arrived. While a great time was had by each of us, that unwelcome guest, Stress, seemed determined to accompany us on that trip. Thankfully, we didn't pay him much mind.

The drive home provided some truly beautiful sights, but this is the one that we chose to capture. I wanted to share it for two reasons, the first of which is that darkness was moving in. The sun was dropping toward the horizon and a storm was on the way.

This week kicks off the holiday season and, for many, it will not usher in happiness. To them, it feels a whole lot as if there is a dimmer switch on every aspect of their lives. Since things have a way of feeling magnified for those who are hurting, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year can be nightmarish. Financial pressures abound, loved ones are missing, families have unresolved squabbles, and Pain decides to not only visit, but unpack its bags and stay a while. Darkness spreads, storm clouds threaten, and some find themselves fervently wishing that they could hit the fast forward button.

I know as well as anyone what it feels like when Darkness elbows its way in on me. Though intensely personal, I can't shake the feeling that sharing about one such time period in my own life may help someone feel a bit less alone in their pain. Having said that, let the story begin...

Last week I received a few e-mails about participating in a Scripture exchange. I was to write down the first verse that popped into my mind and mail it to the person with the number one next to their name. I was then supposed to move the number two person into the number one position and forward the request to twenty of my friends. It was to be a go-to verse that had been a source of strength to me during a challenging time.

Oh, I had such a verse, but I just could not follow through on the forwarding part. Over the years, my motto has largely become, "If it causes stress, eliminate it!" I wasn't about to invite the stress that would accompany my participation. However, I did want to share my verse (and the story that accompanies it) with someone. Consequently, I decided to send it on to the four names that were listed in my e-mails and leave it at that. I guess I kind of made up my own stress-free rules.

Here is what I shared with them:

Sorry guys, but I'm gonna sit this out due to not wanting to send on to 20 people.

For the record, the first verse that popped into my head was the first part of Psalm 4:7 in the NKJV: "You have put gladness in my heart..."
God gave it to me during a very depressed time in my life when I turned my back on Him. Did not open my Bible, pray, or say "amen" to any prayer John prayed over me every morning in a panic. Did not sing at church and cried through nearly every sermon. In the midst of my initial clumsy attempts to come back to Him, He brought this verse to my attention. I was anything but glad at the time. Nothing could have been further from the truth. But I knew I had heard it from Him and so clung to that Word as if my life depended on it, repeating it over and over (sometimes screaming it or sobbing it) when the darkness hounded me. He is faithful. Bit by bit, those seven words did help dispel those things that would torment. It's hard to give words to the depth of it, but hopefully you get the gist.

And this brings us to the second reason I wanted to use this picture. I look at it and remember that special time. The things that were so very stressful then seem so much less now. I remember all of the wonderful moments and want to make another visit to the place where they occurred. I want to return.

I failed to share the details of my coming back to the Lord with the ladies I sent the above e-mail, but I'll do that here. It was probably a decade or so ago and the weight of life circumstances had become unbearable. I was in a true crisis of faith. Everything I had believed up to then all of a sudden seemed like a big fat lie. I was propelled to a place of extreme anger and bitterness towards the Lord and my situation. Finally, I decided that I'd had enough. Enough! If this was what being His carried with it - what it would cost me... well, then the price was just too much to pay. Unforgiveness wormed its way deep into my heart and I suddenly understood David's Psalms about sleepless nights and feeling God's hand weighing heavily on me. There would be no relief for quite some time.

After months of this, I unwillingly found myself in a ladies Bible study. It was one of those where the sincerity of many of the participants might be questioned because material goods were involved. Women were able to use vouchers to buy diapers or other necessities after first attending the Bible study. As is often the case, many of the women would endure the study to get something free at its completion. So there I sat in my rebellion wishing to be somewhere else. I, who once had a thriving relationship with the Lord, was nothing more than an empty shell. I don't know if the leader sensed that she needed to depart from that day's material or what, but she decided to open the floor and allow women to share a verse that God had meaningfully used in their lives.

The room was pretty silent. It was fairly safe to assume that few of the women took much time to read their Bibles in order to hear what God had for them. And there sat me at the end of a three-month long period where I had refused to give Him any chance to speak to me. Three entire months without opening my Bible! Three entire months of stubbornly refusing to allow God to penetrate my heart during worship. Three entire months of being unmoved by any desperate prayer offered on my behalf. Three entire months of vengeful thinking. Three entire months of darkness like I'd never known before.

It became apparent in the lengthening silence that somebody was going to have to share something. I searched the recesses of my mind for something, anything, that I could offer just to end the awkward silence. Timidly, the woman next to me spoke up: "I'm not so good with verses as far as knowing exactly what's in the Bible and I can't remember a specific verse from any particular time in my life. But there have been times when I needed God's help for a decision that I had to make and I opened the Bible to some random spot and placed my finger somewhere on the page without looking. I can't explain it, but it has always worked! The verse has always gone along with whatever it was that I needed help with."

Because my heart was in such a hardened state, I felt contempt towards this simple woman rising in me. I did not have time for such nonsense! I allowed the enemy to egg my thought processes on concerning the utter stupidity of this woman's reasoning. As my mind continued to rail against her she went on to share what her random finger pointing had produced at that precise moment: "Return to me, and I will return to you,' says the LORD Almighty." You can be assured that I was stopped dead in my tracks.

I knew it was for me. I couldn't have been more sure if He had been sitting right there beside me speaking directly to me. Suddenly the floodgates were opened and three months of pent up anger and frustration came spilling forth in a flood of tears. It was something! I shared with the ladies and so began the slow and painful climb up and out of the depths.

It was just after this life-changing occurrence in my life that I needed something specifically from God to endure. You see, none of my circumstances had changed when I walked out of Bible study that afternoon. On the contrary, I was left with knowing that the God of the universe had spoken to me and that He was expecting me to do something with it. Which meant that I needed to find a way to survive each day until the day arrived when it would begin to feel a little less like survival and more like normal life. And so He had given me the Scripture, "You have put gladness in my heart..." What a love gift it was from His heart to mine.

That's my story and I'm sticking with it!

Father, thank You that we are not alone when darkness envelops us. Because You are light and in You there is no darkness at all, we who know You can be assured that we will never be in total darkness. Let the light of Your presence flood us, Lord! How glad I am that You ever so graciously speak to us in our times of need, drawing us closer to Your heart. Where would I, or any of us, be without You? How grateful I am to be Your dearly loved daughter. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Holding On

 Last weekend ushered in beautiful weather. Since some of the guys in our household were behind in the Fall Hiking Spree, we took the opportunity to tuck two more trails under our belts. While driving along, this leaf hit our antenna in such a way that its curled edge enabled it to cling in place. Amused, I watched other leaves swirling here and there while this one stayed put.

I was fascinated with this simple scene! I've shared what a whirling mess my life has felt the last several months. Watching this leaf, I knew well that feeling of being blown to and fro. And I definitely could relate to that feeling of holding on for dear life.

A slight smile spread across my face as I sensed God's voice. "Take a picture. I'm about to show you something here." Sliding the iPod from my purse, I noticed that I didn't have much time to capture the shot. I spied a stop sign nearby and realized what was about to happen. Without the driving wind supporting the leaf, I knew that it would slide down the antenna... and fall away. Oh.

Wow! Isn't that so like life? Overwhelmed, we are tossed here and there. Choices are made for us that we just don't have much control over. It gets rough... and we tend to cling to God during these times. Speaking for myself, I often wonder how desperately I would hold on to Him without the winds of adversity battering me. How easily might I fall away?

Lord, I stand amazed at your wisdom. You know just what I need. Though I grow weary from the tossing, I acknowledge that it is the very thing that has kept me fastened to You. You are good and anything that draws me nearer to You cannot ultimately be looked at as bad. Help me to recognize this more readily. Strengthen me to joyfully cooperate with whatever it is You're doing in me and through me. I don't want to fall away! Thank You for keeping me close to You. May my soul cling to You always. In the name of Jesus I pray, amen.